In writing this comparison essay of William Stafford’s poem “Traveling through the Dark” and Mary Oliver’s poem, “The Black Snake,” I will compare and contrast them and hopefully shed some light, bringing to the surface parts within the poems that are my perspective of what the authors may be saying and how it relates to nature. While doing this I will explain what I believe to be the similarities and differences in the views of the writers towards nature in each of the two poems. In William Stafford’s poem “Traveling through the Dark,” Stafford’s poem is written in first person.
The poem is an 18 line poem with four quatrains and Stafford ends the poem with a closing couplet. He uses the abcb slant rhyme in this poem. The poem uses the sound reinforcements of assonance and alliteration (Traveling, enotes, 2007). In Mary Oliver’s poem “The Black Snake,” Oliver writes the poem in third person point of view. Oliver uses six stanzas to write her poem that is written in third person omniscent point of view using the word “he” in the narrative. Some of the similarities in the two poems are that they both presenting death as being unpredictable but certain.
The cars symbolize death in both poems. I believe that both poets are showing us there are times we are forced to stop and make decisions that in the end determine the type of character we have. However, in Mary Oliver’s poem “The Black Snake,” we read the gentle, maternal-like voice of the narrator “carry him [the snake] into the bushes…he is beautiful and quiet as a dead brother. ” Whereas in Stafford’s poem we read the direct first person account of “pushed her over the edge into the river.”
However, in some of the readings I read for this, some interpretations saw the “pushing over the edge” as a negative trait of the first person narrator. But I feel strongly it was not. I saw the action as being thoughtful, concerned and the best action to take at the time under the circumstances presented—otherwise, we wouldn’t read the words, “I thought hard for us all. ” Mary Oliver approaches a “nature-consciousness” (Artist, 2007) in her poetry with more of a Walt Whitman/Henry David Thoreau style and with more of a gentle reverence in her perspective of nature.
Whereas, Stafford reads to have a more direct and somewhat more of an immediate forceful style to his poetry—if I were to use a comparison in writers for Stafford, I might say he uses almost a Hemingway-ish approach in his direct approach at writing at times. In their writings, both poets use techniques such as metaphors, symbolism and personification in their poetry. In “The Black Snake” we can see the “suddenness of the snake’s death as a metaphor for the fragility of life and the certainty of death” (Oliver, 2007).
Again, we see the insight Oliver has in always seeing the parallel aspects between human life and nature and subtly allowing the reader to find these comparisons in her poem. The snake Oliver refers to as “a dead brother” is thought to represent the snake in Genesis that represents the “biblical book of Genesis and death” (Oliver, 2007). Stafford uses metaphor in relating the road in his poem as the road of life. The reader can see the present in his poem as the illuminated section of the road. We also see life represented in the fawn still and forever to remain inside the womb of is mother.
Also, as stated in one of my sources, the deceased deer is what forces the man to stop along the road, while death is one of the things which causes humans to stop and take time for decision-making (traveling, enotes, 2007). This time taken to make decisions can be seen as nature waits while he considers his decision about the deer, “hear the wilderness listen. ” Stafford could be said to be writing with a more realist perspective, with less reverence or some might say less of that “nature-consciousness” approach to his style than Oliver.
The reader sees Stafford as using logic in thinking of the safety of the other motorists by his actions with somewhat less of an emotional commitment to his natural surroundings. Whereas Oliver could be thought of as presenting a greater concern of creatures within the environment if we were to evaluate their views of nature just by these individual poems. Not meaning to judge their decisions, I just personally couldn’t see the narrator in “The Black Snake” ramming a deer with it’s fawn inside her belly over a cliff.
One might even go so far as to suggest a generalization here; “Traveling through the Dark” has more of a male perspective to it whereas “The Black Snake” could be seen by some as having more of a female perspective to the poem. Although, personally I don’t feel there really exists a great difference between how William Stafford and Mary Oliver revere nature, it is more in the terms of how they each express their thoughts and the words they have chosen to use that may indicate differences in their individual perspectives of nature.